Lions and Dragons breath life into Downtown Chinatown

The Portland Chinatown Museum (PCM) hosted and presented their fifth annual Lunar New Year Dragon Dance Parade on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, bringing in the Year of the Rat with firecrackers, lion dancers and a long serpentine dragon travelling through the streets of Portland.


The event began outside of the gardens and marched through Oldtown Chinatown, and through 4th street towards the Oregon Historical Society on Park Avenue. Large crowds followed the procession and took part in the festivities, giving high-fives to revelers and performers, while event staff handed out red envelopes containing money to children.

In Chinese history, the lions signify the three sworn brothers Lui Bei, Guang Yu and Zhang Fei of the 14th century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Festivities are expected to continue until February 8th, the official end of the Lunar New Year celebrations.

Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard A child stands atop a structure on NW Davis Street to watch the festivities begin. Firecrackers filled the air with smoke and noise, while cymbalists and drummers gave a rhythm for the dancers to follow. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard “Guan Gong”, or the Second Brother, signified by red and black, in homage to Guan Yu. Guan Yu shared a close relationship with Warlords Lei Bei and Zhang Fei, and were subsequently lionized into Chinese folk religion. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Lily Hennings/Portland State Vanguard Volunteers for Portland Chinatown Museum’s hand out red envelopes containing money to children. The practice of gifting these red envelopes is prevalent in many Asian countries, including the Phillipines, Singapore, China, Japan and Indonesia. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard A lion poses with Darcelle XV, one of Portland’s most well known drag queens, on NW 3rd Ave. outside of Darcelle’s drag club. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard “Lui Bei”, or the eldest brother, is typically shown as a yellow lion. Lui Bei became the emperor of the Shu Han reigion after defeating one of Cao Cao’s top generals, Xiahou Yuan in 219 AD . Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard The Chinese Dragon, said to scare away evil spirits, travels through the parade. The longer the dragon takes part of festivities, the greater luck that revelers and businesses will receive. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard A staple diet of the lions, lettuce is held from a stick while they fight to consume the leafy vegetable. Historically, lion dances would have trained martial artists perform intricate fights for the right to claim the lettuce, which often came with a hefty financial reward. It is said to symbolize wealth and prosperity. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard The “Dai Tau Fut”, or Big Headed Buddha, has the important role of teasing the lions. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard Drummers follow the procession, beating out a rhythm for the lion dancers as they make their way through the streets of Downtown Portland. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard The five lions stop for rest beneath the Chinatown gate. The colors and motifs are used to represent the different historical figures of the Han dynasty. Lui Bei, Guan Gong and Zhang Fei, represented by yellow, red, and black lions respectively. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard The lions gather and march under the Chinatown entrance gate along NW Burnside street. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard The “Guan Gong” lion intimidates a young reveler. Throughout the parade, the two lion dancers in each lion operated intricate machinery to control the eyes, whilst also coordinating head and body respectively. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard
Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard A child being held by their father receives a red envelope from the mouth of the yellow lion, “Lui Bei”. Alex Wittwer/PSU Vanguard